Six Tips for Machine Quilting

Six Tips for Machine Quilting

Are you new to machine quilting?  You may have made tied quilts for a while and now want to explore machine quilting.  I’ve seen a lot of advice given for how to machine quilt but I think most of it lacks a couple of points that are important for successful machine quilting.  If you are having some issues or maybe just don’t know what needle to use, these can help.

grey goose stitch detail

I’m going to give you six tips for straight line machine quilting.  However, if you are especially having problems with puckering or tucking on the backs of your quilts or skipped stitches on the tops of your quilts, there are easy solutions to these problems in the following tips.

  1.  Use a Walking Foot.  If you’re trying to machine quilt with a regular presser foot, you’re going to have problems.  Invest in a Walking Foot (sometimes called an Even Feed Foot) if you don’t have one.  A walking foot will make your fabric feed evenly on the top and the bottom, not just on the bottom like a regular presser foot will.  There will be no bunching up of the fabric when you use a walking foot. Each manufacturer has a walking foot to fit their machines.
  2.  Use a Quilting Needle.  This makes a difference. Don’t use a Universal Needle, which has a slightly rounded point, for machine quilting.  Although it can work just fine and you may not have any trouble, quilting needles are better for machine quilting.   Quilting Needles are made for a reason!  They have slightly heavier shafts and a sharper point to get through thick layers of batting and intersecting seams. If you are having skipped stitches sometimes, a Quilting Needle can eliminate this problem.  It can also help a lot with any tucking or puckering on the back of your quilt.
  3.  Use a Heavier Needle.  I piece with an 11 needle and I switch to a 14  when I begin my machine quilting.  Makes a BIG difference! Many people do not switch up a size when they quilt.  Your quilting will be easier if you use a heavier needle.  I like to buy these packs of Quilting needles by Schmetz, which contain the two sizes I use most often, 11 and 14.
  4. Decrease Your Presser Foot Pressure.  If your machine has this adjustment, use it.  My Janome is set to 5 for regular sewing, but I switch it down to 3 when I start quilting.  It makes it easier for the quilt sandwich to move through the machine. This can also help with any tucking or puckering on the back of your quilt.
  5.  Use Quilting Gloves.  These gloves are grippy and will be a revelation to you if you’ve been quilting without them.  They enable you to really firmly hold on to the quilt as you move it through the machine.  Plus I believe they help prevent any oils and dirt from your hands in getting on the quilt as you are quilting it.  These are the kind I use but there are many different manufacturers.
  6. Change Your Needles Often.  It’s never good to let your needle get dull.  This can cause problems – like skipped stitches – and needles are cheap.  Some people change their needles every time they begin a new quilt.

sewing tools.jpg

These are tips that I feel will help you immensely, especially if you are wondering why you might be getting tucks on the back of your quilt or skipped stitches.  Give them a try on your next quilting project.

SOME HELPFUL LINKS:

Machine Needle Guide by Schmetz

sewing needles

Ever have a needle laying around and you don’t know what it is?  Stop guessing!
How to Identity your Schmetz Needle by the Color Band

Have a great week!
Elaine

 

148 thoughts on “Six Tips for Machine Quilting

  1. Marie Johnson

    Can you machine quilt with a regular sewing machine? I would like to try just a simple pattern for the stitching but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to do it yet.

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    1. Fran

      Of course you can, but you will need a “walking foot” or “dual feed adjuster,” as some call it. If you don’t have one in the accessory box, most sewing machine manufacturers sell them separately. Or, for free motion quilting, just put on the darning foot, drop the feed dogs, and take off. Good luck and remember to breathe!

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    2. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Marie: Yes you can use a regular sewing machine! When I refer to a Walking Foot in Tip #1 in the post, that is for any regular sewing machine. I do all my quilting on my Janome Skyline 5, which is just a regular sewing machine. I use my Walking Foot and follow all the tips I talk about in the post. Hope this helps.

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    3. Maggie Durino

      Great info! I got a quilting machine for Christmas! Can’t wait to get started. Unfortunately I have a quilt in the process. Sure wish I’d had the quilting machine when I started it.

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    4. Cindy Henderson

      You definitely can Marie. I’m still fairly new at it but have a ball doing it. Beats spending lots on long arm quilting and the recipient appreciate the work and skill no matter how rudimentary. Have a go! Be prepared to get hooked. 😊

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    5. LoAnn Trowbridge

      Yes u can. Some say that machines with straight stitch only r better to use. I think because of the single hole in the needle plate. Either will work though.

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  2. Paula O'Connor

    I can’t thank you enough! I’m also new to quilting (any sewing, really) and these are just the kind of tips I’ve been looking for: basic beginner information. Your work is beautiful, too.

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  3. Rose m. Brandon

    Hi… I am a fresh beginner. First of all…. I got myself a new brother jx1710. N second… I’ve started with one project to another without getting anything done. My huge, huge problem is sewing straight.. No matter what or how I do….I just can’t sew straight. N I’m just dying to at least get one quilt done without quitting n starting over n over.

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    1. Bernadette Odonohue

      This may or may not help, but as you are sewing don’t watch so much where the needle is going. Especially on a long straight run, just gently guide the fabric. I would equate it to driving a car….you don’t look right in front of the car to go straight; you look ahead of the car.

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    2. Hattie Smith

      Hello Rose, I find that the Brother 1/4 inch foot with the guide is a big help for the straight lines. I bought mine from Amazon but make sure you get a genuine Brother foot. You can do this!

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    3. Laura

      Don’t get discouraged, I am not a seasoned quilter, but I had the same problem. I measured from my needle 1/4 inch and placed a piece of masking tape on the machine. My seams have gotten better. I hope this helps!

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      1. Wanda Connor-Blake

        I learn to sew in high school sewing on paper (without thread). Teacher said we had to learn ‘control ‘ without tearing paper.

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  4. Helen Semrau

    I’m not new to sewing but def not an expert. FMQ doesn’t work for me. I just don’t get it. I get so frustrated I just quit. These are awesome tips. Thanks so much. Now if I could just figure out why my bobbin stitches are ugly.

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Helen: Have you checked the tension on your bobbin? Adjusting that might help. If your bobbin stitches still aren’t right, you need to take your machine in to your local dealer and have them look at it. I actually began to have problems with the bobbin stitches on my old Elna and they never could fix it. They replaced the bobbin twice and it never did stitch right. I finally traded it in for my new Janome and the stitches are just perfect. I hope you can get yours fixed! That’s frustrating.

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    2. Kathy Kumiega

      When you are having trouble with you thread bunching on the underside of your sewing it means that the top thread isn’t threaded correctly. Unthread both the top and bobbin and try again.

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    3. Bernadette Odonohue

      If the previous comments did not fix your bobbin thread issue check that the bobbin thread is winding off in the correct direction as in clockwise or counter clockwise. Also that there is not a specific side of the bobbin that is to be facing out. I have an Elna sewing machine and the bobbin goes in with the word Elna facing up and the thread clockwise in the bobbin case. If I don’t put the bobbin in correctly, I get bunched up bobbin thread.

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  5. Sharon M

    I enjoy machine quilting and, over the last year, really built up my confidence. Helen can you give some tips on thread. I have learned by trial and lots of error that 40 wt. for machine quilting on top and 50 wt. in the bobbin works great. Have not had success with clear thread.

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  6. venetia

    Good tips. One tip that I recommend is to use Bobbin Thread in your bobbin, and a good quality top thread. Bobbin Thread has more yardage in a reel and being cheaper, it saves moneyl and also being very sliightly thinner eliminate the problem of puckering or bunching. Bobbin Thread is NOT an inferior product, and has been used by quilters for many years. Also a bobbin can be threaded with more thread thus eliminating the need to find you have run out of bobbin thread in the middle of a product.

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  7. Sherrie

    Thank you for your tips! I have taken up quilting last year after a 20 year hiatus. I had never heard of a quilting needle that is wonderful. I also agree using bobbin thread is important and a good quality top thread I still have problems with quilting the quilt but I’m working on it. I only do stitch in the ditch for now. One tip I have for this is to think about where you are going to stitch and when pinning the quilt pin so that you don’t have to move pins or remove them while sewing and I have used a pen with disappearing ink to mark my seams. Do you have any ideas for quilting freestyle or with a quilting template?

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  8. Bonnie

    I can’t find your notes on the lime green and green quilt pictured above. Is it on another blog? Such cute fabric and your use of color combinations is fantastic. Thanks

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  9. Bekah

    This is so helpful! Thanks for all the tips. These comments are pretty great too. I’m a newbie and would like to quilt my own on my machine. Have you ever tried a “wavy line” quilting technique? (Still a basically straight line but with a little irregular wave pattern – all lines running perpendicular to each other.)

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  10. Shirley Pitchers

    Thank you very much for your article. I hope you don’t mind my asking some advice …. I am making a small play-mat type quilt for a toddler which I anticipate will need to be washed in warm water often. Would you recommend that I use the traditional 100℅ cotton or do you think that a poly cotton mix will wear better?

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  11. Nancy

    Thanks so much for all the helpful tips. Made a candlewick quilt several years ago. Hand quilted it’ but it was already marked on the fabric. I purchased the quilt foot like you suggested and want to make a hanky quilt for my daughter. They were my mother’s (her grandmother’s) hankies.

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  12. Nannette

    Thank you for a very informative piece. Absolutely love your work. Just starting to quilt and will be following you!

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  13. Dennie Garwitz

    I’m so glad I clicked on your 6 tips. I made a beautiful quilt top. Then I went and bought the fabric for the back and the batting. It was all so much fun. But when I was more than half way through quilting my sandwich I noticed the back was puckering. I ripped out the stitches and started over, but this time I hand basted first. To my frustration that made the puckering worse. I ripped the stitches and used safety pins to hold the sandwich together. Puckered. My beautiful quilt top is sitting in my sewing room. I’m too intimidated to even try again. Now after reading your tips, I’m going to go get a walking foot and the correct needles and try one more time. Thanks.

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Dennie: I hope you try again and my tips help you! You do need to baste the quilt first with basting pins. Do you know how to do this? It’s very important. Everyone starts somewhere and sometimes your first attempt isn’t successful, but keep trying! You learn every time and you will get t right! A walking foot is a must.

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  14. Bonnie

    I am just starting quilting and like your tips I have a Janome sewing machine where can I get walking foot and the needles at best price? And with making quilt do u make the top first then put it together with batting and back material

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  15. Janice

    I am using all your tips, gloves, quilting needle, walking foot, etc. When I do a practice piece on a small four patch, quilting is perfect however on my 36 x 36 quilt, I cannot seem to get my stitches even, some are tiny. Doing a lot of ripping out stitches. My machine is a Soprano Babylock however my thread is Coats and Clark cotton machine thread that I am using. Any suggestions for making my stitches come out even? Should I switch to Aurifil? I do like it but don’t have access to a nearby supplier. Could batting be an issue?

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Janice: I feel like I had the same problem a while back – it turned out my walking foot was defective! What kind of walking foot do you have? It’s not an uncommon problem for the little arm or lever that is supposed to rest on the needle clamp screw to get stuck in the up position. Can you check that? That is what happened to me and they had to replace my walking foot. Make sure the lever is staying down through your sewing. Let me know!

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      1. Janice Conatser

        I am feeling a bit discouraged right now but will definetely check out the arm when I give it another go. I feel it should be alright as the walking foot is what came with my machine. But could be defective. Thank you for your reply.

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      2. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

        Janice: Please check it out. The brand new walking foot that came with my brand new machine did not work properly. In fact, this is a common problem with a lot of walking foots – please make sure the lever is staying right on top of the needle screw. If the lever is getting stuck in the up position, this is the problem. You can use a rubber band, actually, to make sure the lever of the walking foot stays attached to the screw arm. Hope this helps. Keep me posted!

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  16. Lynn

    Can someone please tell me what bobbin thread is? It’s been mentioned several times in the comments, but I’ve never heard of it. Will it say Bobbin Thread on the spool?

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Lynn: “Bobbin thread” simply refers to the thread in your bobbin. Not a special thread! Usually, you have the same thread in your bobbin that you use on your top spool – maybe different colors, but the same thread. Hope this helps!

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  17. Amanda Drew

    I liked how you suggested using a quilting needle and especially how their heavier shafts and sharper points can get through thicker material. My son’s birthday is coming up, and I was planning on making him a quilt to celebrate. Now all I need to do is find some swatches to see which fabric he likes the most.

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  18. Bridget Hall

    Thanks for the advice. I just went out and got gloves and quilting needles. I have a question. What needle do you use for attaching the binding?

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  19. AnnieVee

    Hi Elaine
    I’ve read that you’ve used the 40wt Aurafil thread on machine quilting. Do you only use it on the heavier fabrics like the linen blends or is that your go-to thread on all now?

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      AnnieVee: I use the 40 wt whenever I can now for machine quilting – it just makes more of a statement. If I don’t have the color I want in my stash, I might default back to my 50wt stash. And I will use the 40 wt on any quilt – not just linen.

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      1. Annie Ver

        Thanks Elaine. I can only find 40wt online via the States and as you probably know the Canadian dollar is not so good for us right now. So I’ll just have to be patient and hopefully it will improve. 😏

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  20. Crystal

    I may have missed it but what type of thread should I use for the quilt top? Is it okay to use all-purpose polyester thread? Thanks!

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    1. Beech Tree Lane Handmade Post author

      Crystal: Use 100% cotton thread for machine quilting. Use a good one. I use Aurifil thread – it produces less lint in your machine than cheaper threads. You can use 50 wt. or, for a more thick thread, 40 wt. If your quilt top is made from quilting cottons, your thread should be cotton, also. I have never used polyester when machine quilting a cotton quilt. Maybe others have and can weigh in on this topic. Hope this helps!

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  21. Sara

    Great tips! I always struggle with the bulk of the quilt going through my machine. Do you have tips on how to best handle that? I have quilted a few baby quilts and this seems to be what always throws me off. I did straight lines on one last night but the lines seem to curve where the bulk gets harder to handle

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  22. Norma

    Thanks for all the tips. So glad I hit your site.I have been quilting for a long time(my Mother)but I have learned a lot tonight.One was the size of the top needle being larger for quilting.Thanks again.

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  23. Pingback: 5 Interesting Links for 07-21-2017 | Tales to Tide You Over

  24. Marion

    Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I prefer hand quilting, but do machine quilting on projects I need done in a hurry. After 23 years, I had to had to purchase a new machine this summer. The walking foot on my old Singer Quantum XL-100 worked like a dream.I switched to a Brother machine and trying to use my new walking foot is a nightmare–loads of puckers and bunching. I changed thread tension, feed tension, etc. and it looks a mess. Using my regular pressure foot has been the better option. I do need to take the walking foot back to the dealer to make sure I didn’t get a “dud”, but haven’t had time, yet.

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